Padraig ignored the snarling werewolf in front of him, the throbbing beat of ‘70’s rock, the whirling of the ceiling fan, and scanned the near-empty bar. No human norms present. Good, it made his job easier, cleaner.
His gaze locked onto the woman behind the aged mahogany counter. She was beautiful, almost ethereal. Strange, considering she was about six feet and all angles. Even her face was a series of planes. Yet it all fit together in a unique, mesmerizing image.
Inhaling, he filtered out the residual odor of norms and their stale cigarette smoke. Her scent of summer with just a hint of wisteria, drew him, enveloped him, singed him with the heat of her presence.
Her bored expression didn’t hide the quick assessing look in her cool hazel eyes, then dismissal.
Damn it to the Abyss. Her icy disdain combined with the unfamiliar pull of her sensuality were complications he did not need.
Not now. Not ever.
The werewolf moved and blocked further entry. “I said we’re closed.”
Padraig looked down at the Alpha and jerked his head toward the man at the bar. “I’m here for him.” From the blond hair, brown pants, dull green shirt and sockless feet in boat shoes, his target fit in with all the tourists who docked near the bar. But he wasn’t a tourist. He was a Fomorii Demon here to kill the lovely bartender, the budding Cáidh Arm, Holy Weapon of the Goddess.
Not on his watch.
“Make it quick,” the Alpha growled low in his throat.
He arched a brow and held the steely stare of the brindle-haired werewolf. “Right.” Seconds later, he eased onto the seat to the left of the Fomorii.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked, her neutral tone not quite matching her quick look of speculation.
“An iced longneck.”
She waited a half second before turning to grab the bottle from the cooler behind the bar. Padraig bit back a groan as she moved with the fluid motion he’d seen only in dancers and warriors. His eyes lingered on strands of strawberry blond hair that had broken free of the single braid brushing the top of her waist.
Definitely a complication—one he couldn’t afford.
From his warrior’s In-between space, he commanded his twenty-six-inch-long Katana-style sword to solid form in his right hand and rested it against his chest, hidden beneath his coat.
The cap chinged into the tiny waste drum as she plunked his beer in front of him.
He slapped five dollars on the bar, lifted the bottle to his lips, took a long pull and opened his senses, letting them spread throughout the room, touching everything and everyone. The Alpha had joined his second by the pool tables, from the looks of it his littermate. The presence of a witch somewhere in the building tickled his nerve endings.
Padraig lowered the bottle with his left hand as his right lashed out backhanded with the Katana. The blade cleaved the Fomorii’s neck. The head bounced along the floor, leaving an ash trail behind it. He lifted his beer and drained it, biting back a sigh as the cold, tart liquid flowed down his throat, then slammed the empty bottle on the scarred mahogany top.
Sword still raised, he spun toward the two advancing werewolves. “I am Padraig O’Neill, emissary of Queen Graciela of Otherworld sent to protect her,” he angled his head toward the bartender, “The Cáidh Arm, until her newly emerging powers stabilize. I’ve searched a month for her. Until an hour ago, I couldn’t get a fix on her.”
“Steve said you were due. Better late than never,” the Alpha growled. “And what the hell’s a Kah-dith Arm?” he and the bartender demanded simultaneously.
“As I said, you are the Goddess’ Holy Weapon.”
Padraig arched a brow. “The. Goddess’. Holy. Weapon.” He turned and pointed to the still rolling, but disintegrating, head. “That one has a partner. He might have looked like a tourist but he was a Fomorii and the first wave of the Dark Lord’s shock troops.”
“Shit,” the Cáidh Arm said. “Think we can sucker the other inside and off him without any norms being the wiser?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem.” The wolf thrust out his hand. “Mark Morrison.” He nodded to the wolf at his right. “My younger twin, Jamie. Your charge’s name is Deva Morgan.”
Padraig paused, and then accepted the man’s hand, careful not to maintain eye contact overlong and have it seen as a challenge to the Alpha’s position.
“Deva, contact Steve. Let him know what’s gone down, and find out why the hell he’s late.” Mark turned back his second. “Jamie, get rid of the body and don’t forget the head. It rolled under a table.”
“You’ll need a broom and pail.” Padraig pointed to the small pile of ash under the table and the larger one forming by the stool. “Fomorii ash gets everywhere.”
“Makes body disposal easier. Marissa, we’ve got some garbage to sweep up,” Mark bellowed.
Padraig’s eyes narrowed on the petite brunette witch entering from the kitchen, her apron brushing mid-calf. From her size and delicate features, she was at least a quarter Fae mage. He couldn’t help wonder if she still had slightly pointed ears hidden beneath her long hair or had they vanished with time.
“Why me?” Marissa asked.
‘It’s woman’s work,” Mark said, his voice trying for angelic, but not succeeding.
“Say that again and you’ll become a pig.” Marissa flicked her fingers at him.
The Cáidh Arm leaned forward and smacked his head. “Be nice.”
“Nice? I’m always nice,” Mark said, ignoring Jamie’s laughter as he furtively checked his reflection in the bar mirror.
“I’m glad one of us is,” Padraig muttered. “I need your touch, my lady.”
Her arms folded across her chest, she stared at him, a frown between her eyes. “Why?”
He bit back a curse. What had the queen been thinking saddling him with this half-breed? Fae-human or not, she was the Goddess’ Holy Weapon and his to train and protect. “If you are the one I seek, when I fully drop my shields your touch will tell me. My energy is keyed to the Cáidh Arm. Please lower your shield, but not fully.”
He leaned forward. The fire of her energy licked his skin and tasted his heart. A tremor of unease wrapped around his gut like a viper curling for a strike. Without thought, his fingers curled into a fist.
She raised an eyebrow and smirked at his hesitation. “Afraid?”
“Should I be?”
The Cáidh Arm shrugged. “How the hell do I know?”
Maintaining eye contact, Padraig unclenched his upturned fist one finger at a time. “Please place two fingers on the heart of my palm.”
She touched him.
Energy detonated within him.
He flew across the room and slammed into the wall.
Shaken, he lay dazed. The two Weres and Cáidh Arm rushed to his side with tiny Marissa on their heels.
“What did you do to me?” Padraig asked.
Her lips moved. He heard nothing, not even ringing in his ears. Deaf, he sniffed, examining the Cáidh Arm, the werewolves and Marissa’s scents for any change. Then the faintest hint of seaweed registered.
His fingers and body refused to move. Worse, she and her friends were so focused on him they had not noticed the second Fomorii enter the bar, a clone of the first down to his sockless Docksiders.
Desperate, he canted his head toward the door and mouthed danger—Fomorii. The Cáidh Arm nodded, one short jerk. Relief flooded him at her comprehension.
Her fingers made more of those nonsensical movements that only her team understood.
Horror washed away his relief as she and the werewolves stood and sauntered toward the waiting Fomorii. Halfway, Jamie veered off and returned to the pool table while Mark accompanied the Cáidh Arm to the bar.
Impotent fury roared through Padraig’s paralyzed body. How could he protect her like this? He never should have touched her. Now, this naïve, untrained innocent, the hope of both their worlds, was about to get herself killed and he couldn’t prevent her death anymore than he had his twin Bevin’s.
Marissa shoved his useless carcass flat onto the floor. As he struggled to rise, she balled up a fist, plowed it into his stomach and mouthed, “Stay down.”
Gradually his hearing cleared. A few words filtered through the fog. “Aggressive … drunk … pawed … what happens to strangers … trouble with our sister,” Mark said.
Once seated at the bar, the Fomorii scanned the room. “I was supposed to meet my brother here. Have you seen him?”
“No.” The Cáidh Arm leaned forward, wiping the polished top with a towel. “What’ll you have?” she asked as Mark drifted over to join his brother.
“Anything on tap will be fine.” The Fomorii scanned the room again. His gaze lingered on the ash still scattered beneath the table. “Yes, your brother is right. One should always protect one’s family. Where injury has occurred, retribution should be swift.”
“Too true,” the Cáidh Arm said with smile.
Padraig’s eyes widened as she swung a matte black pump-action shotgun from behind the counter. As she aimed at the Fomorii’s head, he heard the unmistakable sha-shing of the pump.
Boom. Sha-shing. Boom.
The head disintegrated. Ash spewed.
“Damn, it took two,” she muttered.
“That’s why you needed to be down,” Marissa whispered to him. “The shot could’ve scattered.”
He was an incompetent fool who had arrived too late and through arrogance risked the safety of this reckless fledgling. Feeling as weak as a newborn foal, Padraig staggered to his feet and lurched to the bar. “What did you do to me?”
“Nothing. I lowered my shield as you told me, touched your palm and, zap, you flew across the room.”
The bloody woman acted as if he hadn’t been injured.
No, not just injured, Goddess above, for a moment, he worried he had been blasted to the Abyss.
This siren would be a nightmare to train, much less protect. Protect? He was the one who needed protection.
For the past hour, Deva had watched Padraig. Everything about him telegraphed, Come near me at your own risk. Yet his swirling silver eyes hypnotized and captivated her, and she couldn’t keep from tracking his movements.
His intimidating six-foot-six muscled swimmer’s build warned he could take on all comers. A long black leather duster covered his matching vest, pants and black boots that came almost to his knees. They looked like shit-kickers, but she knew they weren’t. Something about them triggered a memory. Silver-blond hair, pulled back in a queue that fell halfway down his back, displayed his regal features in sharp relief.
The man moved around her bar, silent, like a wraith. Not a whisper from his clothing or footfalls. Her dad moved the same way in Fae-made clothing. As beautiful as Padraig’s movements were, this man was more deadly than a Black Mamba.
Just a few hours ago, her biggest problem was reining in Mark and Jamie when she’d shouted at them over the music that the table was for pool only! Chastened, they had backed away and raised beer bottles in her direction. In contrast, the co-ed beside them had flipped her off.
Dressed in jeans, wife-beater t-shirts and scuffed boots, they looked like they’d just come in from a ride on their hogs. Their leather jackets hung on the coat hooks by the door. To norm females, they were attractive bad boys you wanted to reform. Just by walking into a room, they drew every unattached woman. Their brindle hair set off ice blue eyes that danced in delight when looking at any woman.
Gorgeous werewolves and Steve, her missing wereleopard. A witch, Druid and two mages, or magicks as they like to be called, and a gargoyle. “Monsters,” if one believed human norm fiction. “Warriors For Light” to the Tuatha de Danaan. But Deva simply called them Family.
Now her biggest problem was safeguarding them all. Unfortunately, she suspected that task was bigger than she could handle.
Sighing, she forced a smile as Padraig slid onto the stool facing her. Thank the Goddess for the plank of wood between them. Otherwise, she’d embarrass herself by yanking free that leather tie and running her fingers through that long, silky hair.
“Well done. I was surprised at your ease using the shotgun.”
As his tongue moistened perfectly sculpted lips, she gripped the counter to keep upright and clinched her teeth to keep from mimicking his action. The weakness in her knees she couldn’t control. His voice flowed over her like warm honey begging to be licked off.
She jerked herself back from her fantasy, reached into the cooler, retrieved another longneck and smacked it onto the bar it on front of him. “I’ve been training for this moment since I was twelve. After eighteen years, I hope I’d be able to take on a demon.”
“Practice is different from ending an actual life, even that of a Fomorii, especially when it wears a human face.”
Frowning, she rubbed her shaking hand against the side of her leg. Until the moment she’d pulled the trigger, she hadn’t been sure she could do it. He was right. Killing someone, even a demon, was different than lopping the head off a pumpkin scarecrow.
She’d always been a healer and a seer at witch level, but three months ago she began changing. Mutating. Now her ability exceeded that of an Earth seer, maybe even one from Otherworld, and that scared the crap out of her. Something caged inside her clawed toward freedom, savage in its demand for release. A tsunami of power was building, waiting, biding its time to break free and erase everything in its path.
Her eyes lifted and met Padraig’s glacial stare. His words, while comforting, hadn’t touched those frigid silver-gray eyes that broadcasted danger, stay away. He seemed to understand the conflict she’d experienced with her first kill. Perhaps he would be useful after all.
Damn! What was it about this bad boy that drew her?